Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) has the unique property of inducing regression of pre-established murine atherosclerosis. Understanding the mechanism(s) involved may help identify endogenous pathways that reverse human atherosclerosis. Here, we provide evidence that CLA inhibits foam cell formation via regulation of the nuclear receptor coactivator, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)-γ coactivator (PGC)-1α, and that macrophage PGC-1α plays a role in atheroprotection in vivo. PGC-1α was identified as a hub gene within a cluster in the aorta of the apoE−/− mouse in the CLA-induced regression model. PGC-1α was localized to macrophage/foam cells in the murine aorta where its expression was increased during CLA-induced regression. PGC-1α expression was also detected in macrophages in human atherosclerosis and was inversely linked to disease progression in patients with the disease. Deletion of PGC-1α in bone marrow derived macrophages promoted, whilst over expression of the gene inhibited foam cell formation. Importantly, macrophage specific deletion of PGC-1α accelerated atherosclerosis in the LDLR−/− mouse in vivo. These novel data support a functional role for PGC-1α in atheroprotection.
CLA inhibition of foam cell formation is linked to induction of PGC-1α and macrophage specific deletion of PGC-1α increases atherosclerosis in vivo. PGC-1α is expressed in patient plaques, suggesting that it is a regulatory pathway in atherosclerosis.